Blood on the bars: Lizzie Deignan's Paris-Roubaix win & a landmark for women's cycling

Deignan and team-mates celebrate here as they ride to an 80km breakaway victory
As Lizzie Deignan approached her third set of mud-caked, cobblestones on her way to victory at the first women's Paris Roubaix, the clouds began to darken and the light was dimmed.

She was alone and out front, but she had 25km to go before she could ski on the Caphin-en-Pevele section. It nearly ended all of it.

Deignan was attempting to measure the power through her pedals in order to steer her rear wheel away from dark brown water and slop. Her bike started to tilt, leading her to the gutter on one the many northern French farm tracks that are famous for this brutal race.

Deignan wore the number 13 on her back, in a race where men have prayed for the best luck for survival for 125 years. She kept her center of gravity steady and straightened her handlebars to compensate the fact that her bike was driving her.

Her rear wheel touched the grass of the sodden verge as her bike slew to the right now. It was obvious that this was an important moment for her survival.

She flies like a Formula 1 car, under full acceleration, as locals and fans cheered.

Deignan continued to ride, unstoppable in the momentum with a poised and strong attitude that would see her through tough times to win. After riding alone for 80 kilometres, Deignan finally reached her destination. Her French plait was flapping in the cool autumn breeze.

Deignan said, "I felt like flying." These are the days that every athlete hopes for. It's something truly special.

"All those women who raced to be passionate, rather than for the chance to race professionally, I felt the weight and sacrifice they made over the years. We are here today because of these women.

"I felt the strength of women's cycling history behind me.

Paris-Roubaix is the legendary race 'The Hell of the North.

It shouldn't have happened. Deignan was the third choice rider in her Trek–Segafredo Trek-Segafredo Team. She set herself for a race as a loyal worker for the team or 'domestique'.

After gaining the lead in the first cobbled section and extending her lead to two and a half minutes, she was freed and encouraged to win the race.

This was not an option before this year.

Paris-Roubaix was first raced in 1896. It has been a legend in the cycling calendar. After journalists and organisers set out to determine how much of the route survived the four-year wartime trench warfare, the race was given the nickname "Hell of the North" in 1919.

Men's racing is dominated by strong athletes who are too powerful to win Grand Tours in challenging the mountains but heavy enough to hold their ground on the cobbles as they race it out over 258km. Grit and resilience are the keys to victory. It's not about suffering.

Deignan previously stated that "Never in all my wildest dreams did i think I would be capable of riding it." A 115km (71 mile) women's race was held for the first-time on Saturday, 2/10/2021.

32-year old from Otley, West Yorkshire believed the cobbles were more draining than she anticipated on a pre-race recon in sunshine. However, she still believed she had the required skill levels.

It was obvious that she was right when she said so, as demonstrated by the moment in the mud where there were still 25 km to go.

She says, "It was a combination strength and experience that kept me on my bicycle," she said.

The funny thing about cobbles is that it's all about momentum. You lose momentum and you bounce around. To be able to pass them quickly, you must have enough power. Your bike will become more difficult to control if you feel fatigued.

"I had done two recons in spring, and one right before the race. In spring, I was 1.5 kilos heavier than in spring. The difference in being able to keep the bike down with that extra weight was amazing.

"But I also made some adjustments to the material - 2.3 bar in mine tyres was incredibly low, and obviously you wouldn't do that on the roads. It's both a technical and a physical question.

The handlebars of Deignan were stained with blood

Deignan's athletic brilliance was evident on the day. She's one the most decorated cyclists in cycling and a regular winner of the biggest races. She was the 2015 world champion. She became a mother in 2018. She was back in sport, and she didn't stop winning. Last year she was victorious at the prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege, plus the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France.

It sent another message about her character when she crossed the line at the outdoor Roubaix Velodrome in the rain with her hands raised high. The blood was clearly visible.

She had to hold onto the handlebars and resist the urge to shake her bike with cobbles, which meant that she was dripping blood. It was enough to soak up the bar tape at the end.

She says, "On the cobbles, you're fighting vibrations every day - you literally shaking, all you, and my hands were gripping the handlebars."

"Many people said, "Why don't you wear gloves?" "Many people were saying, "Why didn't you wear gloves?" But I don't wear gloves because you still get blisters from the vibration and chafing between your fingers.

"Ofcourse I'm suffering from it now [we spoke on the next day] and I have bloody boils and I woke up almost feeling hungover. I felt exhausted. Although I didn't crash I felt like my body had experienced an impact. I have literally been vibrating through the cobbles for so many hours, so my entire body was aching.

Deignan spoke about Saturday's historic race with emotion

Any athlete who has achieved such a significant victory in such an impactful manner could be forgiven if they miss its significance while caught up in the maelstrom.

Deignan is, however, very conscious. When she acknowledges it, there is emotion in her voice.

"Paris-Roubaix has been a very iconic race - men have what they call'monuments', which are the five largest one-day races. Women's cycling doesn't have those. Slowly, we are incorporating that race into our calendar. This race is also known as the hell on the north, which is stereotypically not something associated with women in cycling. We have proven that women can ride on cobbles to break through this barrier.

"We are making history. It is no exaggeration for us to claim that we are the first women to demonstrate it was possible. However, it does not mean that women before us weren't capable.

It is absurd to think that it took 125 years for women in Paris-Roubaix to conquer (plus one year for the coronavirus cancellation last year).

Even more so, since there has never been a women's Tour de France stage racing. A one-day race organized by ASO, the La Course race Deignan in 2020 has been the women's version.

Next year, the event will last a week and begin just as the men are wrapping up their three-week-long slugfest on Paris' Champs Elysees on 24 July.

It's an important milestone to celebrate, but it raises questions about why it took so long. One cycling insider said that ASO had been "dragged kicking & screaming" into organizing a women's Tour.

Paris-Roubaix was also a landmark. Deignan described it as "definitely an observable turning point".

She added: "I believe this race has captured so many people's imagination that it's undeniable it was as entertaining and as enjoyable as the men’s race, with as high viewing figures.

"I don't believe we can regress any more. There is only one way to go, and that is up.

Deignan's guidance was a game-changer in a world where women feel that they must fight for their rights and safety, and where there is doubt about the quality of women’s sports relative to men.

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